Reading did not come easily for me. I was surrounded by readers and read to frequently, but reading bewildered me. I remember wandering around my neighborhood after lunch one afternoon to avoid going back to school. I was six years old, and I was afraid I couldn’t read the site words that had been introduced to the class that morning. Luckily the school called my mother and reported me as AWOL. She found me, gave me a severe lecture and returned me to school and the dreaded words. At that point in my life reading was something to be avoided.
The next summer we moved to a small town, and I started second grade in a school that taught reading using a commercial phonics program. My classmates who had been there the previous year knew the rules of decoding. I had no idea what they were doing, and I do not recall anyone taking the time to teach me the basic rules. I guess I was supposed to learn the rules through osmosis. Schwa “e”? What on earth was that? Reading was confusing and difficult.
However, I loved the times at school when my teachers read books to us. I also loved to visit the library in a nearby city with my Mom and enjoyed checking out books. I read those books, and I usually enjoyed the stories. But I wouldn’t choose a book over playing outside or riding my bicycle.
Then in my eleventh summer, I wandered into our small, newly opened, local library. It had a welcoming feeling and it was air-conditioned, a rare luxury at the time. Soon I was stopping by as I rode my bicycle around town. Few people frequented the library, and it was usually just the librarian, Chincie Ross, and me. Chincie, had known me forever, and she let me stay as long as I wanted. I spent most of the hot, sweltering, summer days in that little library.
At first, I just looked at the books on the shelves, ran my fingers across their spines, enjoyed the cool air, and occasionally pulled a book out and thumbed through it. I can remember the smell of the older books and the slightly different smell of the new ones. I remember looking at the pictures on the colorful dust jackets and reading the blurbs about the books. Some of the blurbs sparked my interest, and I begin to read the books. I was soon transported to other times and places.
Chincie did not confine me to the children’s section. She let me read adult books. I felt very grown-up and a bit naughty. The stories were fascinating, and the characters were often living quite different lives than those of the people I encountered every day in my small town. I was challenged, inspired and entertained.
And that summer, I fell in love with reading and the magic to be found on the pages of a book.
My love affair with books and reading is a permanent one. I’ve never lost the excitement of starting a new book. Very, very few days have passed in my life without reading from a book or two. The power of well constructed prose, a compelling story and intriguing characters keep me coming back for more.
Some authors speak to me more persistently and eloquently than others. Last year I discovered the author, Diana Gabaldon. Her books are unique, and I discover new delights each time I read or reread one.
This morning as I read Gabaldon’s The Scottish Prisoner, I had one of those amazing moments that stopped me in my tracks and sent me back to the beginning of the passage. I read:
Jamie felt a strong desire to go across and see what the open books were, to go to the shelves and run his knuckles gently over leather and wood and buckram of the bindings until a book should speak to him and come willingly into his hand.
It had been a long time since he’d owned a book.
In an instant, I was back in that small town library running my fingers over the spines of books on a shelf; I was in my favorite bookstore waiting for a book to speak to me and come to my hand. And as I read that last line…my heart broke. For Jamie is a man who has an innate curiosity, an educated man, who has been denied the woman he loves, his children, his home, his life’s work and even his liberty. I could feel the longing of his soul to have a book to hold, to read and savor, to consider and ponder the wonder of its language and to derive his own personal meaning from it.
These words evoked a visceral response in me, and I remembered how precious books are to me, how blessed I am to be able to see, to read the written word, to have the means to purchase books whenever I want and to have the time to read them. These words created a connection between the author and me, for she understands what it is to run fingers across a shelf of books, and she understands the true value of having a book of your own.
What sparks or creates a love of books and reading? I think it is the connection that the author makes with each reader. I began discovering those connections the summer I fell in love with books. The summer I became a reader.